Paul Budde's History Archives

The tread mill and the wind mill

In 1827  a treadmill and windmill were  built on  Green Hills (now Wickham Terrace). While they were both constructed to process the wheat and corn crops of the Moreton Bay penal settlement, Captain Logan saw the treadmill also as an excellent opportunity for punishment.  The mechanism was operated by 16 convicts with 8 persons waiting. They shuffled along the board every five minutes and had  rest of approx 15 minutes at the end of each cycle. In normal conditions they would effectively be on the treadmill for about 5 hours and 20 minutes over a 10 to 11 hour day, which include a 2 or 3 hour lunch break. However punishments could see them working on the mill for 14 hours, most with their leg irons on, sometimes with fewer people and therefore with fewer breaks. This was well above daily maximum set by the British Society for the Improvement of Prison Discipline. No wonder that several convicts died while working the treadmill.

The 9 x 12 meter treadmill was covered by a shed and situated across what is now Wickham Terrace, reaching the other side of the road. It was dismantled soon after the convict settlement was closed.

The buildings were finished in 1828 and the windmill is the oldest surviving building in Brisbane (and Queensland for that matter). The treadmill was linked by a shaft to the milling mechanism on the first floor in the stone mill. A second set of milling stone were used for the windmill. Unfortunately the windmill continually broke down, perhaps because of the use of local timber for the milling mechanism, it simply was not strong enough for the milling process. The mill was also not able to operate at all under calm conditions. In early  1836 the windmill was struck by lightning, causing severe damage, including to the treadmill.

The site was encircled by a timber palisade, to prevent convicts to escape and to stop Aboriginals to steal. Despite this convicts did escape and robberies did take place.

In 1837 an urgent appeal was sent to Sydney for a competent builder to look at the problem. Scotsman Andrew Petrie (see below) was sent from Sydney and became the first Superintendent of Works. His Works Quarters was built in 1838. The position of his residence was at the comer of Queen and Wharf Streets. His first task was to repair the mechanism of the windmill which had never worked properly.

His conclusion was that the he design was wrong and that the construction of the mill mechanism was very poor and that critical parts were missing altogether. He was unable to fix it beyond being useful. It only remained in operation till 1845. The treadmill had to do most of the milling.

Tom Petrie gives us the name of one of the miller, Martin. He appears in the story of an Aboriginal who stuck up ‘old Martin’ and took a bag of corn meal. He stole from the mill at several occasions and was eventually was caught and flogged at the convict barracks.

Interestingly the Petrie family arrived powered by a new technology the very first steamer that reached Brisbane, the ‘James Watt’.

From 1855 the tower was reused as a signal station to communicate shipping news between the entrance of the Brisbane River and the town. Substantial renovations were made to it in 1861 including the installation of a time ball to assist in regulating clocks and watches. A signalling mast is still standing next to the mill. From 1862 the mill also for a few years hosted the first museum collection. Later the tower was used as a facility for early radio, telephony and television communications research.

The tower served as one of the stations for the first  trigonometrical survey of the Moreton Bay district in 1839. This was done in preparation of opening up the area for free settlers. A one mile square section was laid out within a grid. This grid has its origin at this windmill.

The current structure is hardly recognisable as a windmill, apart from a lack of sails and the cap, it also missing the encircling gallery. As such it was built as a gallery mill. The fact that it is sometimes referred to as a tower mill, might be because of its missing the gallery.  A tower mill doesn’t have a gallery. It most likely needed to gallery to catch the wind from as high as possible and also to stay above surrounding trees. Unfortunately to further disguise the building as the original mill is that its sandstone and brickwork has been covered by a layer of concrete. Research has indicated that this is needed to protect the vulnerable sandstone and brick structure underneath. The bricks most likely came from the kiln near the chain of ponds, at the bottom of the hill.

Moreton Bay Penal Colony -1835

Moreton Bay Penal Colony with the windmill -1835

Andrew Petrie (1798 – 20 February 1872) and his wife and 4 sons became the first free (non military) settlers of the new colony.  Petrie stayed and as a builder and architect was responsible for many of the important early buildings that arose in the new township. They had five more sons and one daughter.

His general duty was the supervision of prisoners engaged in making such necessities as soap and nails, and in building. He also made inspections of government owned sheep and cattle and placed a number of beacons on navigational hazards in the Brisbane River.He was the first white man to climb Mount Beerwah, one of the Glass House Mountains seen by James Cook, and he was also the first to bring back samples of the Bunya pine.

The Petrie sculpture tableau - King George Sq

The Petrie sculpture tableau – King George Square

The tableau above depicts the departure of Andrew Petrie for an inland expedition from the Moreton Bay Settlement in 1842. Petrie`s wife Mary is handing him a drinking bottle as their daughter Isabella watches. Young Tom Petrie plays on the river bank with two of his Aboriginal friends. His experiences were later recorded and became a classic document of Aboriginal tribal life. John Petrie, who went on to become Brisbane`s first Mayor and a prominent engineer, holds his father`s impatient horse. The event is observed a convict recently freed from his shackles by Petrie.

Satellite Settlements

The building of Brisbane TOC

Convict History of Brisbane TOC